Music in the Public Schools
How did we get started swing dancing at Odd Fellows Hall?
The Odd Fellows Hall has the best dance floor in Santa Fe. Dance groups have met here for years. In 1997 some of the people who danced at the hall realized that there were only a few surviving Odd Fellows Lodge members. In the foreseeable future all of those members would have died or moved away and our favorite dance space would be sold and turned into a strip mall. As a further complication, only men could become Odd Fellows and only the Odd Fellows had control of the Hall. Some male dancers became members of the Lodge and some female dancers joined the Rebekahs Lodge (the female arm of the Odd Fellows).
Here in Santa Fe, the Lodge’s modest income came from renting the hall. But since the hall belonged to the Odd Fellows, the Rebekahs needed to develop an alternate source of revenue. We were not interested in bake sales or raffles or any of the traditional female fund raisers. In 1998, one of our members suggested putting on swing dances. We tried it and to our amazement it was phenomenally successful. The timing was perfect; swing dancing was popular; and we had hundreds of dollars more than we needed. We decided we needed a charity to support.
Another of our members had a son participating in the band program at Capital High. Knowing that the Santa Fe Schools allocated very little money for music programs, she suggested we invite Ortiz Middle School’s wonderful band director, Roland Villa, to speak to us. He gave a deeply moving speech explaining how music had saved his life. He felt that without school music, he would have ended up in a gang using drugs and probably be in jail by now. But his love of playing music kept him in school so that he graduated from high school and then from college. His life’s work was teaching kids to play instruments and he chose Ortiz since there he saw the greatest need for his talents. He said he had no budget to buy instruments or sheet music and could not even afford to buy a repair kit to fix the instruments he had. After we stopped crying, we voted to give him the $350 he needed to purchase the repair kit, the $$ provided by our swing dances.
It turned out that one of our folk dancer friends, Lorraine Goldman, was a phenomenal fund raiser. She taught us how to create a "Needs Assessment" so we could learn what the individual music teachers actually needed – this one needed sheet music, that one needed violins, the other one needed 2 trumpets and a trombone etc. With this information in hand, she approached people she knew, local banks and other large businesses, and said “Look. Ortiz Middle School needs 2 trumpets that costs $2000 apiece. Would you donate $2000 for one of these trumpets?” Using this “bridal registry” model, she raised a lot of money which the Rebekahs gave directly to the teachers.
The Santa Fe Odd Fellows Lodge has continued to sponsor swing dances at the hall and has continued to raise money from a wide variety of other sources. At this point, we AND our partners have given the Santa Fe music teachers more than $500,000! Coordinating, paying and tracking expenditures is all volunteer, so there's no administrative cost to the music projects. We support general music teachers, violin teachers, guitar teachers, a Mariachi band (complete with uniforms!), choral teachers, band and orchestra. As an example, we provided a $10,000 drum line to the Capital High Marching Band! Any child in these schools who wants to play an instrument or sing is able to do so. Thousands of kids have been positively affected by this program. We have the support of the Superintendent of the Santa Fe Public Schools who understands that studying music helps children learn and keeps them in school.
Every year, the Odd Fellows invite the music teachers and school administrators to a dinner at the hall so that the teachers can share what they have accomplished and their hopes for the future. We’ve been moved listening to them and have admired their dedication and their love of their students. One teacher who came to Santa Fe from a wealthy California school said he was astonished to realize that we were providing the kids with instruments of far better quality than his previous employer.
Now, after all these years, we have attended and enjoyed innumerable school music events. The kids have far surpassed that early “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. We’ve watched and listened as 60 middle school kids played quite difficult classical music in the Ortiz Orchestra. We have been especially proud of our annual Roland Villa awards program which recognizes kids who show particular talent or dedication. (We were all devastated when Roland passed away, much much too early.)
Perhaps most amazing has been the effect our efforts have had on the School Board which has now added a music coordinator to their staff in order to provide appropriate music education in all of Santa Fe’s public schools. Santa Fe now has one of the best music programs in the entire country!!!
And to think that all of this grew out of swing dancing! What a great result!
This worked so well that we decided to find a way to help the teachers in the 5 Southside schools – Sweeney, Chavez and Ramirez Thomas elementary schools, Ortiz Middle School and Capital High – in their efforts to keep music alive. These are some of the lowest income schools in the Santa Fe school district. Many of the students are immigrants whose parents speak no English and they need all the help they can get.
Roland invited us to visit his class a short time later. Here were these little kids – 6th graders, neatly dressed, holding their instruments properly, paying attention, working together and playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for all they were worth. It was sweet and touching and, after we stopped crying, we decided that we wanted to do more.